Sometimes making peace is not a simple matter. Some situations would try the wisdom of Solomon. The current conflict in Ukraine is an example.
The relationship between Ukraine and Russia, which goes back to the ninth century, is long and complicated. Ukrainians and Russians have many things in common but have been divided by language, politics and religion: Catholicism predominated among Ukrainians, and the Orthodox faith among Russians.
Modern history certainly gives Ukrainian people ample reason to be furious with Russia. Stalin’s coercive collectivization of agriculture in the 1930s caused a terrible famine that killed millions of Ukrainians. During World War II, the entire Crimean Tatar population of about 240,000 people was forcibly deported to eastern Soviet republics on the pretext of collaboration with the invading Nazis. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, caused by faulty reactor design, irradiated large areas of Ukraine and neighboring Belarus.
On the other hand, the experience of three devastating invasions from the west— Napoleonic, World War I, and World War II — weighs very heavily on the thinking of both Russian leaders and Russian people. They are determined to prevent any repetition of these horrific incursions.
The rights and wrongs of the current conflict are, to say the least, difficult to sort out. Ukraine is an independent country, but about 60 percent of its population is Russian-speaking and favors cultural, economic and political ties with Russia. The pro-Russian President Yanukovych was democratically elected, but proved to be extremely corrupt, incompetent and authoritarian. He was overthrown by a genuine mass movement, but one that occurred mainly in Kiev, and in which fascist elements played a minor, but not insignificant, part.
Influential U.S. military strategists want to surround Russia with a cordon of NATO bases, something which Moscow will never tolerate. Moreover, American neocons connived in fomenting the movement that overthrew Yanukovych. The new pro-Western government in Kiev is of doubtful legitimacy. It is not recognized in Crimea or in other Russian speaking parts of Ukraine.
The recent Russian military intervention in Crimea is certainly a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, yet it is welcomed by much of the Crimean population. So far the Russian intervention has involved little violence in sharp contrast to murderous U.S. attacks upon Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
When confronted with a complex situation like that in the Ukraine, what should peaceniks do? Several general principles can be helpful:
1. Develop a full understanding of the arguments and motivations of all parties to the conflict.
2. Analyze the situation in terms of human rights.
3. Emphasize the importance of non-violence for all parties concerned.
4. If uncertain about what position to take, do not take any position at all. An ethically sound course of action will emerge in good time.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” column runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.